A word that inspires dread in most Brooklyn residents is gentrification. Gentrifiers hate the connotation; others worry about eviction. Therein lies the challenge of Arts in Bushwick, a Brooklyn-based organisation that aims to bridge the gap between neighbourhood residents and the artists who have moved there. The group's mission is to create “an integrated and sustainable neighbourhood” that brings everyone together “to counter development-driven displacement.” With an all-volunteer staff of artists and community organisers, Arts in Bushwick has been putting on neighbourhood arts festivals and facilitating local projects and talks since 2007.
Beta Spaces, one such festival, took place in November. It was a showcase of small exhibitions organised by local artists in homes, bars, coffee shops and even a children’s after-school centre. Laura Braslow, a founding member of Arts in Bushwick, has been on the local administrative board since she moved into the neighbourhood some years ago. She emphasises the importance of integration with previous residents. “There are people who don’t respect the idea of moving into a new territory,” she laments.
Braslow understands the tension that comes when young artists move into cheap neighbourhoods. But rather than gentrification, she prefers to think of it as “reinvestment”. At Beta Spaces she hosted a discussion called “Arts on the block”, which considered the impact that art can have on a community.
There is something earnest about artists opening their homes to the public. Connecting the disparate parts and artworks of Beta Spaces was a strong feeling of geographic specificity.
“Artists in our neighbourhood—more than in others—are interested in working together in a collaborative way,” says Jeremiah Jones, the curator of Mythologized, a multimedia exhibition in his loft apartment. “They have more of that do-it-yourself energy.” Jeremiah and his partner, Ann, often put all their belongings behind a black curtain in their loft on Bogart Street and turn it into a gallery.
That’s what Beta Spaces seems largely about—the intersection of a place, its people and art. A new Loft Law, which makes post-industrial space more affordable, also helps.
The artists I spoke to say they don’t plan on moving beyond their small, industrial territory between Flushing Ave and Meserole Ave any time soon. Though they know the neighbourhood is changing in ways they may not be able to afford down the road. “The building next to us has a hostel and a garment manufactory under one roof,” says Jones, “so as the hostel is making more money, they might start eyeing the factory at some point as a space to rent out. It might happen. That’s how things go.”
The next Arts in Bushwick event, Site Fest, will take place on March 6th and 7th.
Picture credit: Michael Alan, "The Displayed Window" (below)